Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Five Year Olds with Fall Birthdays: Pre-K Ideas

Birthdays bring stress no matter how old you are. But count yourself lucky if your child’s birthday falls in winter or spring. That’s because children who celebrate birthdays from January through May will automatically attend Kindergarten when they turn five. On the other hand, if your daughter has a summer birthday you will probably ask yourself the question: “Should I redshirt my Kindergartener?” Or, if your son has a fall birthday, he will miss the enrollment cut-off altogether and be hanging out with you all year.

I don’t mean to scare parents of five-year-olds with sticky birthdays, but— yikes! Your six-year-old Kindergartners will either have 1) a very big advantage, or 2) no room for error.

Books like The Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell have presented the hypothesis that older children do better in general. But recent research coming out of Princeton shows that this isn’t necessarily the case; at least not when it comes to school. The reason (which I could have told you based on my experience in the classroom), is that older children cannot be retained. That’s “teacher-speak” for flunked.

Well, technically you could hold an older child back because there is not supposed to be any “social promotion” going on in schools these days, but in actuality this probably wouldn’t happen. Nobody with a heart would make a seven-year-old- repeat first grade when he was eight.

The simple solution to all my anxiety inducing scare tactics is to teach your child to read before he or she enters Kindergarten. Use that extra year you have with your five-year-old at home, to give him or her an academic advantage that makes other parents drool. Incorporate fun, hands-on-activities into your daily lives and watch the magic happen. Just to be clear; I’m not talking about making your child do worksheets, which is contrary to my personal philosophy of education.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Morning Message

  • I sound like a broken record on this one, but writing a daily Morning Message on a little white board while your kids eat breakfast is a great way to teach phonics, reading, writing and punctuation. Use your own intuition to level this activity according to your child’s individual needs.

Bob Books

Homemade books

  • Go to the store and buy a whole bunch of paper and special art supplies. Put them in a big box or bag, but don’t let your child use any of it. When he is asleep, staple together a whole bunch of homemade blank books. The next day, tell him that he can each make one or two books each week using the special art supplies. Use reverse psychology to have your child begging to make books.
  • The trick will be that you need to heavily facilitate the writing of the books. The child is the author and illustrator, but you are the secretary. (This is like the grown up version of the homemade books I’m making with Jenna.)
  • Make sure you are writing sentences that your child will be able to read 95% himself. At the end of the year you should have a big box of 50 or 60 books that your child has authored.

Structured Math Lessons

  • Try teaching two or three structured, hands-on math lessons to your child each week.  If you can afford it, I think that Right Start, is a great way to go. (Oh, how I wish they were paying me money to say that!) Right Start is a bit of an investment, because you’ll need all of the math manipulatives, but you can use those tools later on to help your child understand their public school homework all the way up to fourth grade.
  • A cheaper alternative would be to use Singapore Math, which is another popular homeschool program that I like.
  • For math ideas that are completely free, please check out my page Cheap Math.

Computer Time

  • I can’t say it enough, but those darn Reader Rabbit programs really helped Bruce learn math. I like them a lot better than the Jump Start series. For smart five-year-olds, I’d recommend “Reader Rabbit 2nd grade math”, which has a good range on it, even though it has 2nd grade in the title.
  • It would also be worth checking out, at least for the first 2 week free trial, Dreambox math. This will take your child through a complete K-4 program without you having to do anything except take out your credit card.
  • A free alternative to Dreambox (but not quite as good), is Houghton Mifflin’s Eduplace math games.

TV Time

  • Television? Yes, because you’ve got to be able to make dinner sometime! If you haven’t already seen it, set your DVR to tape PBS’s The Electric Company. It’s a big step up from “Super Why” in terms of plot line, but still teaches a ton of phonics. It really helped solidify my son’s reading skills when he was four and five.
  • If you still sense a weakness in your child’s phonics skills, check out “Leap Frog Talking Words Factory #2” from the library. It goes over lots of serious phonics rules in a fun way.

DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read)

  • Studies have shown that the more words on a page your child is exposed to and tries to read himself, the better his reading level abilities will be. High word count and practice is a better predictor of reading success than even teaching phonics or reading aloud to a child. So if you have an emergent or reluctant reader, it’s imperative that your make sure your child does Independent Reading every day, even if you have to resort to bribery!
  • Set up a cozy reading corner somewhere in your house, and stock it with a box of books you know are at an easy reading level for your child. You could even let your child munch on crackers or something, while she reads. Set the timer at 10 minutes, and slowly build up to 30 minutes by the end of the year.


  • I’m going to sound crazy, but just skip handwriting altogether unless you are going to choose a program that is hard to mess up, like Handwriting Without Tears. My reason is that when your child gets to school they might use an entirely different penmanship program like D’Nelian, and you don’t want your kid to have to relearn everything.
  • Instead, focus on building up your child’s fine-motor skills with: play dough, cutting, sewing, gardening, blocks, cooking, cleaning, art, chalk, etc. 

Those are all of my main ideas, but I’m sure there are lots of other good ones out there. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, and to forward along this linke to anyone you think might be interested. Have a fun with your five-year-olds!

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10 Things I Never Thought I’d Say On Spring Break, Until I Became a Mom:

1)      Don’t pee in the heater.

2)      Holding your own hand in the parking lot doesn’t count.

3)      Whose cellphone is ringing under the six yard pile of much?

4)      Do these clogs come in black?

5)      How do babies get in mommy’s tummies? Prenatal vitamins.

6)      Where did Lady and the Tramp’s puppies come from?  Santa brought them.

7)      Why did you drop an egg in my coffee cup? (To my daughter.)

8)      Yes, I will play Spinjitzu with you.  (To my son.)

9)      How could you not realize you were walking through poop?  You’re barefoot!  (To my husband.)

10)   Who made the Wii character named “Chubby Mommy”?

Tell Me More About the Easter Bunny

Since Jenna is two and a half this Easter, I thought it was time to give her my condensed version of what Easter is really all about it. I told her the story of Jesus, Christians, and the cross, but left out all of the gory and transcendental details. I ended with: “Even when people die the love we have shared together lives on forever.”

At this point Jenna smiled up at me and remarked: “I’ve got bunny teeth!”

When I had the same talk about Easter with Bruce five years ago, he thought about everything I said very seriously, and then said: “Mommy, tell me more about the Easter Bunny.”

Ugh! Back to the land of rank commercialism… I’m not sure that dyeing Easter eggs should have anything to do with Good Friday, but that is what we did last night anyway. I already feel guilty about resorting to the “I-bet-these-dyes-come-from-China” pack of colored wonders I picked up at our local grocery store. We’ve been really busy. Too busy in fact, for me to make the natural dye recipe from the April, 2009 edition of Ladies Home Journal we usually use.

In case you are interested, here’s the recipe:

Add 2 cups of water and 2Ts vinegar to:

  • Orange: 2 Ts paprika
  • Blue: 1 1/2 cups blueberries
  • Pink: 1 cup chopped beets
  • Green: 1 cup blueberries and 2Ts turmeric

Or, you could just buy a box of dye from the store. Whatever…

Bean Experiments and Two Year Olds

Last week Jenna(2.5) and I made seed tape and also created a little bean experiment on our sliding glass door using a Ziploc bag, paper towels, water, peas and beans. This is what our bag looks like now:

The main concept I am trying to help Jenna understand for herself is that plants come from seeds.  What is cool about this experiment is that you can actually see the little plant and root coming out of the bean seed.

Of course, when I asked Jenna where plants come from while she was holding the bean in her hand she answered “Plants come from the ground.” Okay… so this teachable moment needs some repetition. 🙂

I bagged up all the seeds, taped them to the window again, and I am going to ask Jenna the same question again tomorrow!

Afterschooling Over Spring Break


If you are a regular Teaching My Baby to Read reader than you will recognize this current get-up on my family room wall as being vaguely reminiscent of a system I used over Winter Break. The main idea is the same; give my son Bruce(7) a sense of control over his own day, schedule, and destiny, while at the same time eliminating all arguments about when he is allowed to watch TV or play on the computer.

In this latest incarnation of our token economy system, Bruce can earn “Bardsley Bucks” by doing a variety of activities. He stores the tickets in his piggy bank, and then places them in the appropriate envelope when he is ready to cash in.

Lest you think I am a slave driver, I need to mention that during Spring Break I give Bruce as much down-time as he would like. If he wants to spend the whole week in the backyard looking for worms, that’s fine by me. But if Bruce wants to play Wii Resort, then he can earn that privilege by playing Dreambox Math, working in his pink math book, doing a spelling lesson, playing Solve for X, writing a letter, cleaning his room, playing with his little sister, etc.

My mantra over vacation is “Give Bruce choices and keep Bruce busy.”

At Home Preschool…Ideas to Get You Started

Don’t be green with envy, but where we live high quality preschool is affordable. I have lots of options to choose from, and I don’t need to camp-out overnight on a doorstep to register for Montessori. When Jenna turns 3 and attends preschool in the fall, I’ll pay $300 a month for three days a week, three hours a day. But I understand that many of my blog readers in other parts of the country face a steeper financial burden to pay for preschool.

Some of my out-of-state friends have decided to join forces with other moms and sponsor coop preschools in their homes. Admittedly, my first thought is “Eeek! Three-year-olds painting over white carpet!” But really, I think with the right parents and enough planning, you could make an outstanding play-based preschool experience for your child at home. Here are some ideas that might help you get started:

Student/Teacher Ratio

  • Two Year Olds: 1 adult for every 2 children (including mobile siblings)
  • Three Year Olds: 1 adult for every 3 children (including mobile siblings)
  • Four Year Olds: 1 adult for every 4 children (including mobile siblings)

Emergency Preparedness

  • Make a backpack that includes first aid supplies, water, food, emergency contact information, and a change of clothes. This backpack should be with the adult in charge at all times, even if you are playing outside in the backyard.

Preschool Supply Box

  • Preschoolers need consistency and routine. If “school” is moving from house to house each week, then that is a lot of change for little guys to contend with. In order to counter this, you should have some materials and supplies that are ever-present and that children can count on. The Preschool Supply Box would travel to whatever home preschool was going to be located that week, so that the parent in charge would have everything necessary to set up the “classroom”.  It would contain: an easel, paints, paper, smocks, play dough, play dough tools, several picnic table cloths, Dixie cups, paper plates, a tub of chubby pencils, old stationary, a large white board with dry erase markers, scarves, bean-bags, musical instruments, the emergency backpack, and a dog bed.
  • Whoever had the Supply Box last would be in charge of cleaning and disinfecting the materials before they were sent to the next venue.


  • Before kids arrive, set up at least twice as many activity stations for the number of children you have attending. In order to provide consistency to your program, some of the stations should always be the same. One or two stations should be brand new every time. The constant stations could include: painting (with the picnic tablecloth underneath), play dough, a reading nest (that’s what the dog bed is for), a writing corner, a dress-up area, and blocks. Novel stations might include a toy kitchen, an office, watercolors, a Word Whammer, cooking, or bean activities.
  • During Centers/Stations time, the adults float through the room offering assistance and support.

Circle Time

  • During Circle Time I would write a very short Morning Message on the giant white board. Then I would bring out a sound box and let the children take turns guessing what was inside. After that we would read a story.
  • Circle Time is when the adult delivers direct instruction.

Two Hour Schedule

  • Arrival and free play (15 minutes)
  • Circle Time (10 minutes)
  • Centers/Stations (40 minutes)
  • Clean Up (5 minutes)
  • Snack (15 minutes)
  • Music (10 minutes)
  • Outside Play (25 minutes)

Bumping Things Up to a PreK Program for 4 Year Olds

  • Since every child learns at a different rate, I am very leery of “academic preschools” that have children sit down to crank out worksheets. In fact, I don’t think worksheets are a very good way to teach at all. But I do strongly believe in giving children the opportunity to learn academic content in a fun, engaging, one-on-one setting. I also believe in teaching children to read at a very young age. I think a really good way to do this in a home preschool setting would be to use the All About Reading or All About Spelling kits from All About Learning Press.
  • On days when there were at least two parents present in the preschool, one parent could pull children aside individually in 10-15 minute intervals to work on an AAR or AAS lesson. Some children might go through these programs slowly, whereas other will whiz through. That’s why you would teach them one-on-one.  The All About Learning Press teaching guides would make things really easy and accessible for the parent to lead, so all parents in the preschool could be confident that their children were receiving high quality reading lessons.
  • To incorporate a structured math program into the preschool, another parent could be in charge of conducting 10-15 minute lessons using Right Start Level A with children on an individual basis. As a whole class, you could also do a new cooking project each week.

A Word about Money$

Creating a home-based preschool for your child would certainly save a lot of money, but it would not be free because you would definitely need materials and supplies.  It would probably take at least $80 from each family to start the preschool up, and then $10-$20 a month for new art supplies and learning materials. If you decided to hire a professional preschool teacher, that would of course cost money too. Or, you could rely on a different parent to be the “teacher” each week.

If I was contemplating creating a home preschool with some other parents, and one of the other moms was constantly objecting to cost or trying to sacrifice quality for the sake of frugality, I would kindly tell her that we were not a good fit for each other. I want to be careful with my family’s financial resources, but I believe that my children’s education is worth paying for.  Any way you slice it, a good quality preschool still costs money.